“Assistant Curator Olds,” the man said. “I was working with Lord Abington on behalf of the museum. I was supposed to have been present at the unsealing, but Lord Abington ordered me out at the last moment.”
“Lead on, young Mr. Olds,” Meriwether said. “There may not be a moment to lose.”
The halls of the museum rose above the men in a gloom darker than the autumn sky. The scent of dust and still air gave the great triumph of English culture the unfortunate aspect of a necropolis. Their footsteps echoed against the marble and stone, dampening even Meriwether’s gay affect. Mr. Olds led them down a long corridor, up one long flight of stairs, and then another to a hall designed around a pair of great oaken doors. Two other men, clearly minor functionaries of the establishment, huddled in the harsh light of a gas sconce. The hissing of the flame was the only sound. Balfour stepped immediately to the closed doors, scrutinizing them with an expression so fierce as to forbid speech. Meriwether paced back and forth some length down the hall, his pale eyes moving restlessly across every detail, his footsteps silent as a cat’s.
“Something’s happened,” Balfour said, stepping back from the doors with a nod. Meriwether strode to Balfour’s side licked his fingertips and held them before the doorway.
“Yes, I see,” he said.
“What are you talking about?” Lord Carmichael asked. “What do you mean something’s happened?”
“The room within is not sealed,” Meriwether said, his voice unnaturally calm. “All through the museum, the air has been still as the grave, but here there’s the faintest of breezes. What other access ways are there to this workroom?”
“None, sir,” one of the functionaries said. “There was a back way, but it was bricked up years ago to make more storage room for the collection.”
“Light?” Balfour asked.
“Gas lamps, sir,” the functionary said. “Same as the rest.”
“And during the day?” Balfour said. “Are there windows?”
“Well, yes sir. But they’re set at the rooftop. The workrooms are high as a cathedral, some of them sir.”
“We’ll want rope,” Meriwether said. “And ladders that will reach the roof. There’s little time.”
“What do you suspect?” Lord Carmichael asked as the functionaries scattered to Meriwether’s command.
Meriwether shook his head silently and gave no other reply. A few minutes work brought the discovery that the window high above the workroom had indeed been breached, and less than a half hour more allowed the pair of special agents to be lowered into the stygian darkness within.